DNA testing on evidence from Bristol unsolved murder a slow process

The long wait for answers to the mystery of Shaun Ritterson’s brutal 1977 murder just got even longer, with officials this week saying that DNA tests are taking more time than expected to complete.

Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub said Monday that technicians at the Local DNA Index System (LODIS) lab outside of Philadelphia are having a tougher time than expected with the decades-old evidence associated with the slaying, so an analysis of Harry Ritterson’s DNA, recovered after his death in January, could be months away.

“Even with this delay built in, we are confident that we’ll get results,” Weintraub said.

Prosecutors have called Harry Ritterson, 77, of Easton, the “primary suspect” in Shaun Ritterson’s slaying. The brutal murder was chronicled in this newspaper’s special investigation series: The Girl on Church Hill.

Shaun Ritterson, 20, of Bristol, was Harry Ritterson’s niece. Witnesses said the two had an unusually close relationship.

Shaun vanished after a night of drinking with friends in Bristol Township. Her nude, badly mutilated corpse was discovered a short time later on a Buckingham hillside.

Based on tips generated from the newspaper series, as well as Harry Ritterson’s interview with a reporter at his home last year, detectives in December had prepared a search warrant to gather a sample of his DNA to compare with evidence recovered from the murder scene.

Before the warrant could be served, however, Harry Ritterson became ill and was placed in a New Jersey hospice, where he died. His DNA was recovered after his death, before his funeral.

Weintraub said forensic scientists are being very careful with the other evidence in the case, much of which is very fragile after sitting in a police storage area for years before it was reexamined at this newspaper’s request.

“The degree of difficulty is very high, especially when you’re dealing with material that has degraded with age. There is also a great number of pieces of evidence,” Weintraub said. “Because of those factors it was very difficult to conceive how long the process would take, or to put a date on when the investigation would be complete.”

Weintraub said tips continue to be generated from the publicity surrounding the newspaper investigation, and he’s looking forward to bringing the Ritterson family answers.

“The case remains a priority for us,” he said. “We remain undeterred and will wait as long as it takes for the test results to come back.”